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Fire tax proposed for Halfway area

November 15, 1996

11/15/96

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

In a move that surprised Halfway Volunteer Fire Co. members, Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers suggested Thursday that a fire tax be levied in the Halfway area to raise money for the fire department.

"Too many people get by now without having to pay anything," Bowers said. "The fire tax would be equal across the board. How it would be set up would have to be worked out."

Bowers' suggestion followed word that the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co. had a contract to buy the former Moose lodge. Fire company officials said the lodge could be converted to a restaurant, a private club or a bingo hall, to generate funds for the fire company.

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Two commissioners reached Thursday night said they would need more information about Bowers' proposal, while Commissioner Jim Wade said that a fire tax probably is needed to help all of the county's fire departments.

Bowers said he does not think the fire company should buy the lodge, once home to the largest Moose club in North America. The lodge was closed by the national Moose headquarters two years ago for rules violations.

Bowers said something must be done to assure future revenue needs of the Halfway Volunteer Fire Co., but he does not think fire companies should start clubs like the American Legion, the Elks or the Moose, or set up restaurants to compete with private businesses.

Halfway Fire Chief Jeff Ringer said he was "pleasantly surprised" by Bowers' proposal.

But he said the fire company will move forward with plans to buy the former Moose lodge, because the fire company has pursued a fire tax for more than 30 years without success.

"If the county commissioners want us to stop from buying the Moose lodge, they better move fast, because we are still negotiating to buy the Moose lodge," Ringer said. "We would like to not have to buy the former Moose lodge ... but we're not going to sit back and let this deal go by, because the county commissioners may or may not pass a fire tax."

Ringer agreed that not enough people in the community pay their share for fire service. He said fewer than 30 percent of the residents and fewer than 1 percent of the businesses contribute to the fire company during its fund drives.

Ringer said he believes the people in Halfway who have contributed annually would support a fire tax because those who have not been contributing would then have to pay their fair share.

Bowers said that a special fire tax district could be set up for the Halfway area. The residents could have a deduction in their property taxes in the amount equal to their share of what the county gives to the fire company. That way, residents would not be billed twice for fire protection services, he said.

County Commissioner Vice President John Shank said he does not think a fire tax should be set up only for Halfway.

"If they should have one, why should the other fire companies not have one?" Shank said. "I'm not going to say I oppose a fire tax, but I'm not going to say I'd support one. I'd say I'm open to investigate that. I'm willing to look at all of that."

Shank, like Bowers, said he does not think it appropriate for the fire company to buy the former Moose lodge.

County Commissioner President Gregory I. Snook said he was not aware of Bower's fire tax proposal for Halfway and would need more information before expressing an opinion.

"I need to know the basis of why he said that. Is it because they are buying a building, or the size of the area, or the amount of the equipment they need?" Snook said.

Wade said he's suggested in the past that the County Commissioners need to spend more time discussing the needs of the county's fire and rescue companies. He said that the commissioners have probably spent a total of two hours over the past two years discussing fire and rescue issues.

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